“He is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” -Psalm 1:3
“Those trees, those trees, those Truffula trees! All my life I’d been searching for trees such as these!” (from Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax). And then I found them…in my backyard. The other morning I looked out the window and there they were; golden, crimson, russet, and, because there are always a few late-unbloomers, greenish. Fall had arrived and I, for one, was eager to see it! It is my favorite time of year, next to spring, and summer, and winter…when it snows. But, while there are aspects of each season that I admire, none can compare with the eruption of colors that emerge in the fall. There’s something about the radiance of the trees that makes even the dreariest day glow with color. It really is a sight to behold.
And, while the external beauty on its own is enough to delight the senses, there is also an internal message that surfaces with the uncoloring of each leaf. That’s right…“I said what I meant and I meant what I said” (from Horton Hears a Who)…the uncoloring of the leaves. (Apparently I am suffering from a literary anemia commonly referred to as Seuss-orexia which results in intermittent spouts of Seuss quotes…so sorry. I’ll down a dose of The Sneetches and be back to normal soon, or my name’s not Sylvester McMonkey McBean!) You see, while we say the trees are “turning” colors, the truth is that they are actually unturning colors; in reality, the leaves are revealing their true colors. Once the temperature drops enough to halt food production for the season, the leaves stop producing chlorophyll and the green pigmentation, well, pardon the pun, but it “leaves”, thus allowing the leaves to show their true colors. Pretty amazing; pretty revealing, in more ways than one.
And so I wonder…if leaves have two colors, do people have two colors also? Do we, do I, allow “food production” to color us (me) and cover up the true color that lies just under the surface? As I think about this, I realize that what is depicted in the leaves of the oaks, elms, and maples is also portrayed in the lives of the Oaks, Elms, and Maples. We all were created with a glorious color that is too often masked by our productivity. We move in and out of each day with a “to do” list that keeps our chlorophyll pumping, our cholesterol rising, and our true radiance hidden. We are far more like trees than we might like to admit, much less bark about. (I know…I went out on a limb with this one…and yet I couldn’t resist!)
As I reflect on what makes leaves green, I can’t help but think the same function causes us to be greenish as well. Leaves are virtual mini factories, working diligently from sun-up until sun-down. We too often move throughout our days as if we’re working within a factory. We clock-in each morning and continue to have our time-cards punched as we move from one task to another. Too often we fall behind schedule and try to catch-up by working through lunch, overlapping activities, and throwing whatever isn’t tied down off the wagon. Then, when our feet hit the mattress and our head hits the pillow, we clock-out. Sound familiar? Feel familiar? Look familiar? When you look around, what color do you see in yourself and in those around you? Is your world lit up with the splendor of gold and crimson and orange? Or, is it greenish?
Now, before I make it sound as if green is an undesirable color, let me reiterate that the purpose of leaves is to make food for the plant, and that is necessary. We don’t get to the seasonal colors of fall without the seasonal greenery of summer. The trouble is that trees are not able to choose their season; they respond to the cycles of nature and rhythmically move in and out of season. We, however, tend to reset our seasonal cycles so that we stay in one season longer than we were meant to. We long for productivity, so we ignore the changing temperatures around us and try to pack even more into our ever shortening hours of daylight. Instead of entering into a season of rest, we press on and look for new sources of light to provide our fuel. Eventually, even though we’re still functioning as if we are productive, our output becomes a trickle and our color is still that of, well…of a pickle! And, we’re in a pickle, too! If only we could learn to allow our working to cease, for a season, so that our true colors could emerge. If only we could learn to be content with doing less in one area so that we would have the energy needed to do more in another area. Trees rest so that the food produced during a growing season can be stored and available for use the following season. If we only produce but never store, from whence will our new growth come? How will our roots deepen, our trunks widen (no comment here…though it’s killing me not to), and our branches broaden if we don’t allow that which was manufactured to be stored?
In Psalm 78:6, we read, “That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, that they may arise and tell them to their children.” I love this verse. It speaks of longevity, of production followed by productivity; of making and then storing…that future seasons will be even more prolific than preceding seasons. It speaks of leaves that are golden, and crimson, and russet.
So how do we move out of one season and into another? How do we allow production to decrease so that productivity may increase? We start by realizing that we were created to do more than simply produce. We are wired to work, and that is good. But, as Satan is the distorter of all that is good, we have in our flesh the drive to overwork. We bite into the lie that busyness builds and swiftness succeeds so we diligently dig deeper holes and build higher piles, and all at an alarmingly increased speed! To move from busyness to bounty, we must allow God to rewire our thinking so that we rightly see the productivity that abounds when production ceases. We must realize that we are more than what we do; our true color lies just below our surface…just beneath our activities. When we stop doing and start resting, we begin storing…and then our green gives way to golden.
Golden leaves, they emerge when we invest in kingdom work like sharing the gospel and teaching God’s truths. Russet leaves, they unfold when we make ourselves available, when we slow down long enough to listen and to hear. Crimson leaves, they appear when we sacrifice for the sake of others, when we allow our production to give way to productivity for the sake of our posterity…for the generations present and those yet to come. This is how we invest, this is how we store, this is how we grow, and this is how we glow. May we all enjoy the beauty of fall, both outwardly and inwardly…that we may be like the tree in Psalm 1:3…“firmly planted by streams of water, yielding its fruit in its season; whose leaf does not wither, and in whatever he does, he prospers.”